The University Council shifted rooms to escape rowdy protestors before passing a five percent fee rise for next year last Monday.
The public attendance of the meeting was limited to a maximum of 50 students, despite a 150-person capacity, due to past experience, precedent and a “question of health and safety”, Chancellor Tim Beaglehole said at the meeting.
The meeting began in the Council chamber and was attended by around 30 students and members of the public. It was moved to a very small room on the fourth floor of Hunter after the crowd was deemed too noisy and disruptive for the meeting to continue there.
Protestors chanted “Do a degree, what do you get? Debt, debt, debt, debt”, blew an incredibly loud whistle and heckled the Council from the public gallery, from which they had hung a ‘No Fee Rise’ banner and A4 pieces of paper spelling out SHAME.
A pre-printed resolution for the change of venue was passed by a slim majority of the Council, instead of ejecting the protesters, as was threatened earlier. VUWSA President Geoff Hayward and former VUWSA President and Council member Fleur Fitzsimmons both vocally opposed the attendance limit and the relocation of the meeting for reasons regarding transparency and student involvement.
Beaglehole said the relocation of the meeting was “most unfortunate”, but that “the reality is that the meeting had to be held in an orderly fashion and we must be able to hear each other. Students who insisted on blowing whistles and chanting from the public gallery made this very hard.”
The fee rise was passed by a large majority, with Hayward, Fitzsimmons, student rep Chris Bishop and Te Makao Bowkett against the rise.
Those in favour of the rise emphasized that Vic’s current level of funding was not enough to ensure quality research, learning and academics, and that fees must rise for Vic to remain competitive with other New Zealand universities.
Pro-Chancellor Ian MacKinnon said “the problem is government funding of tertiary education in this country”, which Bowkett negated, saying “[we] cannot continue to place the burden on the rangitahe”, and Fitzsimmons said the University is using students as “cash cows”.
Another Council member pointed out that despite annual fee rises, the Overbridge still leaks every time it rains.
Beaglehole told Salient: “Additional funding will allow Victoria to continue to offer students high-quality programmes by attracting and retaining high-quality staff, to provide better study and research facilities for undergraduate and postgraduate students and staff and to continue the upgrading of the university library facilities.
“Quality is important and indeed essential in the work of the university, both for carrying out its responsibilities in teaching and research and ensuring that its graduates are well equipped for their careers after Victoria.”
Beaglehole said the University has lobbied the government “extensively” for improved funding, and notes “there is a constant tension as to how tertiary education should be funded – that is how much should be paid by students and how much should be paid by tax payers through the Government.”
Eight students were served pre-signed exclusion notices for a one-day ban and another two people, including 2006 VUWSA President and mayoral candidate Nick Kelly, received trespass orders banning them from the University for two years. VUWSA Education Vice President Joel Cosgrove received two of the exclusion notices, which were prepared in advance and dated ‘5 Oct 2007’ – the Friday before the meeting. Cosgrove defied the notices, which banned him from the University grounds until 8:00am the next day, to go hang out at his office in the Student Union Building.
After some media coverage, the University later withdrew Kelly’s trespass notice. In a letter from University Counsel Victoria Healy, Kelly was advised that “the Vice-Chancellor considers that your presence on campus presents no risk and that you should be permitted re-entry.”
Kelly had earlier stated that if he was to win the mayoralty race, the ban would mean he would be unable to attend University events, including the unveiling of the new Fairlie Terrace hostel.